dark · Dublin · Eastern Rising · Joseph Plunkett · Kilmainham Gaol · Summer 2012

Dublin: The Dark History of Kilmainham Gaol, Part 1

On of the places we’ve passed by often while on the tour bus was Kilmainham Gaol. Without really knowing much about it, we dismissed it as “just a jail”, so why go to it? 
The balance
But after hearing about the Eastern Rising, and the name of it being mentioned at the Dublin Castle tour, we thought, why not? 
It was one of the most eye-opening and profound tours I’ve ever been on. 
Kilmainham Gaol
This place reeked with sadness and despair. You could sense it from the dank and somewhat dim lighting, and the exhibition prior to the tour wasn’t helping. Some of the things displayed were the theories of criminal reformations— how prisoners should exhibit the needed behaviors to go back into society. 
Methods of hanging were also displayed. The earlier method was the “short drop”, possibly named because the short rope used to hang the criminals. Hangings would be a public ordeal, and quite the spectacle around Europe as a whole. People would come all over the land to witness one. The “short drop” was replaced with the “long drop” (longer rope, duh!), but this ensures that the a hanged is given a swift death by severing the spinal cord. 
An article about the sentenced

There was an article clipping describing the last moments of a man to be hanged. The prisoner committed murder and was sentenced to death. In between tremors of fear and bouts of calm and resolve to leave the world, he was surrounded by priests, and rallied in prayer. As we was taken to the scaffold, the priests continued to pray for his soul. His eyes, while shifting between fear and calmness, sought out the executioner. At times, his steps were steady, but the closer he got, the weaker his knees became, and he buckled, only to have two guards on his sides catch him up and march him forward. 

On the scaffold, he was placed accordingly, on the trap, his face covered, the noose put on his head, and then… 
Executions were common, if not in public, then in private (as it later became). 
The tour itself took us first to the oldest part of the jail (which we couldn’t photograph, naturally). It was narrow, and cold. The doors of metal, the walls of concrete, with graffiti (no history as to when it made it on the wall), and the hall with high and arching ceilings. It was both wonderful and dreadful when you thought of the horrors it would lead to. During the famine, the jail was overcrowded because civilians committed the smallest crimes to be arrested and captured. 
To these starved people, they had a better chance at survival with a roof on their heads, rationed food, and a place to sleep. The jail was built to “reform” criminals, which includes adding a bit of humane perks. One of the perks was that it should have a good ventilation system, which backfired because of the amount of diseased individuals that filled the cells, and it spread through the jail. Above each door were plaques with the names of important prisoners, and the year they served their sentence. 
Referencing to the instigators of
the 1916 rebellion
The jail did not discriminate, accepting men, women and children. Justice was also served equally, regardless of age and gender. A 5 year old boy was incarcerated for 4 days for stealing a small object. Another, a girl of eight, was sentenced to incarceration and hard labor for a year (or more?). It was common for those kids to be treated that way. During the overcrowded period, people were put out to sleep on straws in the hall. In the cell, there would be around 5 people. Each with a candle, a thin blanket, and bucket. The cell would have a plank for sleeping. Conditions for women were said to be the worst. 
The jail church, where Joseph Plunkett
married his betrothed hours
before his execution
On some corridors, you could see catwalks above, leading to the higher-level cells. In that part, most of the 1916 Eastern Rising rebels were locked up. One of them Joseph Plunkett, who was betrothed, married his girlfriend, Grace, hours before he was executed. When a 10 minute meeting was granted, it was not with him alone, and she could not say what she wanted. 
She stayed outside the prison walls until she heard the shot that killed her new husband. 

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